Call for Prioritization Amidst Covid 19 Vaccine Inequities in Africa

March 19, 2021

By Quwam Kelani, Key Correspondent with the Irish Global Health Network

Date: 18th March 2021

The largest vaccination campaign in the world is underway one year into the Covid-19 pandemic. The race to develop a vaccine with help from new technologies for vaccine development and the global community has been remarkable. Although a substantial population of the world needs to control the pandemic, rich countries lead the race to get immunized from the SARS-COV-2 virus. They use their political will to make pre-purchase agreements to prioritize their population.

The UK and US struck a deal with Pfizer to purchase 100 million and 330 million doses for their populace. They have similar deals with other pharmaceutical giants like Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline Plc. Canada and the UK are estimated to have pre-purchased enough vaccines to cover 410% and 295% of their population.

African countries are left to scramble for other options. In West Africa, Guinea was able to order 55 doses of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. Other nations have sourced from China, India and the United Arab Emirates. Ghana set a June deadline to procure 17.6 million doses of vaccine, about the time some developed countries intend to complete their vaccination rollout. Countries like Tanzania and Madagascar have no plans to acquire vaccines.

The hoarding by wealthy nations alongside the lack of funds, regulations and cold chain requirement have marginalized African countries. Most African countries rely on Covid 19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) initiative to acquire vaccines for their countries. COVAX is the vaccine pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a framework for global collaboration co-managed by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The COVAX initiative aims to cover 20% of Africa’s population by delivering about 90 million doses of Covid 19 Vaccines in the first quarter of 2021 and 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021. Ghana kicked off the COVAX campaign by receiving 600,000 doses of vaccine for its 30.4 million population on the 24th of February, 2021. On the 2nd of march, Nigeria received 3.9 million doses for a population of 201 million.

The African Union procured 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from manufacturers for its member state at a cheaper rate to supplement the COVAX programme. The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) supported the procurement. Member states will pay for the vaccine using domestic resources or a five-year instalment plan through the African Export-Import plan. South Africa is one of the countries keen to receive Covid 19 vaccine doses from the African Union. African Union goal is to achieve herd immunity in Africa by vaccinating 60% of Africa’s population by 2022.

The two vaccines making their way into Africa are doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. Both vaccines are safe and effective at preventing Covid-19 illness in people. Clinical trials showed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95% effective. The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine demonstrated 82% vaccine efficacy.

The limited vaccine supply is not enough to vaccinate the entire population. African leaders need to prioritize health workers. They are at high risk to get infected and transmit SARS-CoV-2 to the community. The critical role they play by working under intense and challenging circumstances put themselves and the community at risk. When we protect them, we defend the health system from being compromised by the availability of essential services needed for the Covid-19 pandemic response. The next priority should be Sociodemographic groups with the health status of a significantly higher risk of severe disease or death, particularly people above the age of 50 and pregnant women. This act will keep the public health strategy that focuses on the reduction of mortality and morbidity.

The inequity in Covid-19 vaccine distribution continues to get broad. Africa will be the continent hit by SARS-CoV-2 the most if it doesn’t reach its target of vaccinating 60% of its 1.3 billion population by the end of 2021. “The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure, and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.” The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in the declaration for COVID-19 vaccine equity.

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